When I started college and began to piece together my career trajectory, teaching was never one of the options.
I started college with a focus in microbiology. After spending a semester studying obscure tropical diseases and finding myself rather squeamish, it quickly became apparent to me that being on the front lines of an Ebola outbreak wasn’t for me. Some soul-searching led me to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner. Shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree, I was sitting in an interview for a graduate nursing program, describing to the admissions team why I wanted to be a nurse. I remember feeling in my heart that I just wasn’t passionate about this career option—that I just couldn’t seem myself as an NP for years to come. I wasn’t excited about this prospect either. Cue the existential panic.
So at that point, I did what any 22-year-old millennial in the middle of a career crisis does: I moved back home, swallowed my pride, applied to dozens of jobs and jumped at the first ones I was offered. I worked as a barista, a lab chemist, as a child care worker in a group home. Nothing seemed to provide any guidance in answering the “what was I doing with my life?” question. Finally, a part-time offer presented itself—teaching marine biology to students from around Connecticut, onboard a research boat in Long Island Sound. Instruction was hands-on and out on the water. I jumped at the opportunity.
I loved every minute working with students, showing them how exciting and innovative science is, and playing to their natural curiosity. Even in the middle of February, when the boat looked and felt like something out of an episode of “The Deadliest Catch,” I knew I was exactly where I should be. I looked forward to going to work every day. That’s when I knew teaching was my calling.
I’ve shared this story with my students each year since I started teaching. In this age of high academic pressure and expectation, I want to show them that they don’t need to have it “all figured out.” As an educator, I feel that it is my obligation to show my students that, while they may miss the mark on Option A, it’s OK to seek out Options B–Z. I want them to understand that they have a choice when faced with a challenge: to give up, or to harness their internal grit and to power through. I truly believe that often the best decisions in our life come out of adversity.
In the immortal words of the “Mythbusters” duo: “Failure is always an option.”